Political Science Professor Speaks on Protest Politics
Issue   |   Tue, 04/18/2017 - 23:40

Nikita Dhawan, a professor of political science at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, spoke on the importance of social movements for transnational justice and the role of protest politics in a talk titled “Death of Leviathan: Protest Politics and State Phobia” on Wednesday, April 12.

Manuela Picq introduced Dhawan as a friend and talked about the conversations she and Dhawan frequently have about the state, which is, according to Picq, “something that is growing in the United States in the Trump era.”

Dhawan began her talk by noting how the world has become more interconnected and international due to globalization. Because of this, issues from “business to agriculture, from human rights to the relief of famine, call our imagination to venture beyond narrow group loyalties and to consider the reality of distant lives,” Dhawan said.

She referred to theorists of cosmopolitanism — the theory that human beings belong to a single community with shared morality — who “argue that suffering elsewhere affects us. It is also our responsibility and our duty to, in a certain way, be accountable to the pain of others,” Dhawan said.

“Cosmopolitanism is an antidote to apathy and indifference by realizing that we are not immune to the pain of others,” she said.

Dhawan also discussed the power of street protests in the last few decades. These types of protests, she noted, “seem to have transformed the way power, agency and resistance are being perceived and performed.”

“There is this idea that street politics in a certain way embody counterpublic spheres, where groups and collectivities who did not have access to public spheres now have access to political legitimacy,” she continued, mentioning groups such as queer people and women.

“Here I draw on Foucault who says [that] where there is power, there is resistance,” Dhawan said. “I would add to Foucault and say where there is resistance, there is power.”

Following her talk about protest and the state, Dhawan showed a short clip about a case that involved the rape and fatal assault of a woman on a bus in New Delhi, India in 2012.

“The Delhi gang rape case incited spontaneous nationwide protest against sexual violence and the abysmal failure of the state to ensure the safety of its female citizens,” Dhawan said.

She continued, “When I first saw images of these protests, I was extremely excited and empowered about the role of the civil society in addressing … the silence on sexual violence in India. [However], a few weeks later … I found out that parallel to the Delhi gang rape, 19 [Untouchable] women were raped in the neighboring state … and this was not even reported in the national media.” “Untouchables” are people in the lowest caste of India’s caste system. They still face discrimination despite such treatment being illegal.

“This demonstrates the point I was trying to make earlier — how subordinate groups are marginalized by both the state as well as civil society,” Dhawan said.

The final example Dhawan brought up was the treatment of Middle Eastern and North African immigrants by European countries. Dhawan showed photos of protests in Germany advocating for the deportation of immigrants after mass sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in 2015. According to police reports, hundreds of women were assaulted by groups of men in Cologne and other German cities. The majority of the suspects were asylum seekers or undocumented immigrants from the Middle East and Africa.

“In the aftermath of the sexual assaults during the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebration, there has been a systematic demonization of all migrants and refugees of particularly men (black men, Arab men and Muslim men) as sexist and misogynist — they’re all potential rapists, which has in a certain way weakened the consensus in favor of Germany accepting large numbers of refugees,” Dhawan said.

“This serves as an excellent example of the fickleness of proclamations of universal hospitality and global solidarity,” she said. “The moment [an immigrant] abuses the offer for hospitality, they must all be immediately deported.”
Julia Finnerty ’20, who attended the talk, said she is currently taking “Sexualities in International Relations” with Picq and thought the lecture was an interesting supplement to the subject.

“Dhawan was really clear in explaining complicated ideas, particularly as she criticized the state, civil society and the market,” Julia Finnerty ’20, who attended the talk, said in an online interview.

Finnerty added that she is currently taking “Sexualities in International Relations” with Picq and thought the lecture was an interesting supplement to the subject.